The ovarian histology of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) chronically exposed to three levels of environmental pH was examined for evidence of reproductive impairment. Exposures occurred in three experimental running-water channels receiving Mississippi River water. One of these channels was not acidified and two were dosed with H2SO4. The pH was approximately 8 in untreated river water and 6 and 5 in the two channels receiving H2SO4. Fish for ovarian examination were taken from these channels at four stages of the reproductive season: initiation of spawning (June 19), mid-spawning (July 12), end of spawning (August 14-15), and approximately 1 mo. post-spawning (September 19). The fish exhibited ovarian histological changes and depression of reproductive success which were directly associated with the level of environmental stress experienced. The association between these three factors was most consistent and pronounced if the fish were sampled near the end of the spawning season. When sampled at this time, reproductive impairment in a population was found when the ratio of the volume of atretic (resorbing) oocytes present in the ovary to the total ovarian volume exceeded 20% in all fish sampled. This was the case in the pH 5 channel fish sampled in August. At this same time, not all of the fish in the pH 6 channel exhibited such an accumulation of atretic oocytes, and egg deposition in that population was not reduced. None of the fish from the pH 8 channel were so affected nor was their reproduction.
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